Last week, I did something amazing. I made my final student loan payment. Yes, I managed to pay off my education before turning 30 and that feels pretty awesome. How did I do it? That’s both easy and hard to explain. It’s not a process that can work for everyone. I made several life choices that led me to this point…
First, I chose to go to a local state school and live at home. Why? I received a scholarship that would pay for 75% of my undergraduate students in-state, but only 50% if I went to a private institution. Being the logical girl I am, I chose the state school (I also had no idea what I was going to do with myself and it seemed reasonable to find my way without blowing my non-existent finances on a BA).
Secondly, I received grants. These aren’t that plentiful anymore, so it’s one of the hard things to replicate if you’re trying to go about getting an education for less today. In a way, it was luck, but I did strive to keep my grades up in order to keep my grants throughout my four years, and I saved whatever was leftover to pay for books/technology/emergencies.
I earned a BA without paying a dime.
I then went to grad school… again, I wasn’t sure where it would take me, but I chose to go with the program that offered me an assistantship that covered nearly all of my expenses and provided me with a stipend (which helped pay for whatever wasn’t covered). Again, there were a few grants to see me through the rest, and I saved and scrimped in order to make ends meet and come out with a 0 balance.
Then, I went in for the second round… earning my MLIS. Again, I had a choice to make–all the programs were distance programs (I couldn’t afford to leave home for personal reasons), so I had to choose between an in-state or out of state program. I went with in-state (again, avoiding those out of state tuition fees), and chose the school that had the lower tuition rates. Hello, loans. My MLIS was fully funded by Stafford loans. I only took what I needed and I started saving so that I could start paying as soon as I graduated (I paid my way through the loan grace period to avoid higher interest rates). I started paying my 22k as soon as I graduated in the summer of 2011. That’s two years. What did I do? I made another decision: to move out or pay my loans. I calculated average rent in my area (about $1000 on average) and decided to pretend that I was paying for rent and just send that money straight to the loan providers. I stayed at home for another year and a half, until I felt that my payments had reached a point where I could switch over and pay the thousand for rent and the difference for my loans. I learned to live within my means, a lesson I hope to take with me for life, and I learned to balance my earnings.
The hard part is that I know this isn’t something everyone can do, and I don’t profess to be an expert on finances. It’s hard to make ends meet, especially if you don’t have a job that can help you get on your feet. I lucked out/was blessed/worked really really hard/whatever you want to call it, and I managed to get ahead.
To those of you struggling with your student loans, it can be done. Your path may not be mine, but it can happen.